Let’s review the Cardinals’ first home stand of the season.
But first a reminder: the standard disclaimers apply.
You know … it’s only six games … 156 games remain on the schedule … the 2011 Cardinals crawled out to a 2-4 record in their first six games, only to end up popping champagne to celebrate winning the World Series … at least one team that started out 2-4 has made the playoffs for six straight seasons … the Cardinals’ famous 1934 “Gashouse Gang” lost five of their first six games, and recovered for a 95-win season and the World Series title … it’s a marathon, not a sprint … the Tortoise and the Hare … did you know that after being planted, the Chinese bamboo tree doesn’t start to grow until the fifth year in the ground? … Seabiscuit lost eight of his first 12 horse races before rounding into form as one of the great thoroughbreds of all time… Springsteen didn’t hit it big until his third album.
So while 2-4 sort of sucks, the record means little if anything.
That said, there’s no federal law that prohibits fans or media from assessing their team’s first week.
Bad: Just the mere annoyance of flopping in the first two series at home, with the Cardinals losing two of three to the Cubs and the Reds. A bad pattern continued into the new year. In 2016 the Cardinals went 38-43 at Busch Stadium, and won only nine of 26 home series — losing 15 and splitting two. With the latest lost week at Busch, the Cardinals are 40-47 at home since the start of last season, and that record ranks 26th among the 30 MLB teams. Ugh.
Bad: The Cardinals hit .208 and averaged 3.2 runs per game, a total inflated by Saturday’s 10-run attack against 79-year-old Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo. The Cardinals went 8 for 47 (.170) with runners in scoring position. They struck out 51 times and hit 70 ground balls. In their four losses the Cardinals batted .153, struck out 36 times, hit 44 ground balls, scored five runs total, and were shut out twice by the Reds. Ugly.
Good: The Cardinals’ rotation turned in five good starts in six games, with the only negative being a poor showing by Carlos Martinez in Sunday’s 8-0 beatdown by the Reds. Still this team would happily accept a 2.70 rotation ERA and five effective starts over a six-game stretch. For their part, in their first turn through the rotation, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha combined to give up only six earned runs in 24.1 innings for a 2.21 ERA. Long season, positive start, have to keep it up.
Bad: The bullpen was dreadful, getting smoked for six homers and 13 earned runs in 17.1 innings (a 6.75 ERA.) The relievers gave the Cubs and Reds way too many free passes –13 — on nine walks and four hit batters.
Good: Shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who had the only live bat with two homers, two doubles, four RBIs and a .593 slugging percentage.
Bad: Team defense. I don’t have to explain it; you saw it.
Bad: Manager Mike Matheny’s early-season obsession with Matt Adams in left field. A spot start here and there is OK, but Adams isn’t ready to play left field on a regular basis. He’s caught routine fly balls, but was hopeless against two challenging flies hit his way. Matheny says he wants Adams’ bat in the lineup. That’s understandable … well, except for Adams going 2 for 10 with five strikeouts during the first week. If Matheny wants to disregard defense in left field for the sake of offense, then the Cardinals should have picked up the 2017 option on Matt Holliday’s contract.
Bad: While we’re on the subject of left field … where have you gone, Jose Martinez? He didn’t make a single start in LF despite batting .380 with four homers, 15 RBIs and a .740 slugging percentage in spring training. Normally, I would toss out spring training stats as insignificant, but Matheny cited weak Grapefruit League stats in justifying his decision to downgrade second baseman Kolten Wong, and in batting Stephen Piscotty sixth in the lineup instead of fourth. Evidently, some players’ Grapefruit League stats count in Matheny’s mind … and some don’t.
It’s confusing, really. But let’s put Martinez’ spring-time blasts aside for a moment. Martinez has looked terrific in the early days, getting a hit and walking twice in five plate appearances. His pinch double ignited a ninth-inning uprising in the Cardinals’ 4-3 win over the Cubs in the season’s first game. As a group, Cardinals outfielders batted .182 with a .242 slug, 24 strikeouts and two extra-base hits in the opening week. So why was Martinez sitting most of the time? Didn’t he warrant at least one start? Given that he’s a better defensive player, it’s silly to relegate Martinez to an automatic reserve role given the circus in left field.
Good: Catcher Yadier Molina had a fine week for several reasons: (1) he signed a three-year, $60 million contract extension; (2) he had a .391 onbase percentage and drove in three runs in six games; (3) he nabbed two of the four runners that tried to steal on him; (4) That pitch sticking to his chest protector was an instant-classic image; (5) MLB is not investigating “Goo Gate.”
Bad: Cardinals’ cleanup hitters who combined to go 4 for 20 (.200) with a .250 slug, one extra-base hit and eight strikeouts.
Bad: Third baseman Jhonny Peralta. He went 2 for 14 with seven strikeouts, left seven runners on base, and made no hard contact according to the data provided by Fangraphs.com … Peralta also committed two errors in Sunday’s embarrassing spanking by the Reds. Again, it’s only a few games here. But it would have been reassuring to see Peralta, closing in on this 35th birthday, come out and hit the ball with authority. This is the part where I update and tell you that Peralta has a woeful .364 slugging percentage in his last 595 plate appearances, going back to the 2015 All-Star break. And he was Matheny’s first choice to open the season batting cleanup.
Bad: Wong parked in the dugout shade on Sunday, inexplicably not starting against a RH pitcher despite drawing four walks with only one strikeout and cultivating a .350 onbase percentage during the week.
Good: The increasingly impressive RH reliever, Matthew Bowman. Three appearances, 2.1 innings, no runs allowed, one hit, no walks, two strikeouts, and a 57 percent ground-ball rate. The other Cardinals relievers combined for a 7.80 ERA.
Bad: The top of the STL lineup — Dexter Fowler batting first, Diaz hitting second, and Matt Carpenter slotted at No. 3 — will fuel the offense. And while we have no gripes with Diaz, who powered up immediately, overall the first three hitters reached base 23 times in 79 plate appearances for a lowly onbase percentage of .291. And there were no extra-base hits from Fowler or Carpenter. Once these guys get rolling, the offense should click.
In other words … it’s early.
Thanks for reading …